4.07 - Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Father and Your Mother
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.“ (Exodus 20:12)
4.07.1 - The Gift of God: Family
Family is the pearl of great price and one of the remnants of paradise. God has created man, male and female, to reflect His glory and love, and so to multiply and replenish the earth. Family, then, is the nucleus of human life and the foundation of all cultures. It provides protection, security and solidarity, and very often it proves to be far stronger than all the new ideologies.
All religions generally agree that parents ought to be honored. It is natural for children to love and respect their parents. When communism, with its godless ideology, calls into question the status of parents, this assumption goes against the Creator and His creation, and the norms of natural and instinctive human behavior. God protects the family with the fifth commandment. It is proper for us to give thanks to God for the institution of family, its existence and its secret bonds of love and solidarity.
In the fifth commandment, God commands us to honor not just the father, being the head of the family and its provider, but also the mother and women in general. Like the man, she is called to reflect the image of God in her life and share family responsibilities equally with her husband. No wonder both the Old and the New Testament are in agreement when it comes to honoring mothers as much as fathers.
The commandment for keeping and cherishing the family is obvious and natural. Even in the world of animals, little ones follow their mothers, and male and female birds sometimes sit on the eggs alternately. They both feed their young until they are able to feed themselves. There are natural bounds and relations set by the Creator which no one can overstep unpunished. Yet today we hear of rebellious voices that tempt and harden children's hearts, “Do not listen to your parents or ever submit to them. Rather, think for yourself, fulfill yourself and practice rebellion willfully from your infancy.“ The eyes of such children look gloomy with disobedience, the joy in them extinguished. A basic part of their hearts has been tragically ruined.
4.07.2 - Parents' sacrifice
Fathers and mothers have the privilege of participating in the new generation. Every creation of a child is a marvelous wonder in itself! Maybe the child was begotten without the will of his parents. However father and mother still participated in the divine act of creation. The Lord honored them by allowing them to deliver the genetic inheritance of generations to the infant within the mother. Therefore, man ought to prostrate before the Creator, worship Him, thank Him for every child ever born.
Our mothers bore us for nine months, nearly 275 nights and days in their wombs. We were safe and provided for there. We shared her joy and anger, her sorrows and weariness. Perhaps our mothers prayed for us before our birth. The act of our births must have caused her much fear and pain.
A father and mother often accompany us for years and years. They watch our limbs and bodies grow, and respond to our smiles and agonies. They may even thank the Creator for our existence and growth. If our parents grew up under the authority of Jesus, they surely entrusted us into the hands of our heavenly Father, taught us His commandments and encouraged our hearts to believe in the Creator and the Good Shepherd. Thus, they raised, loved and blessed us more than we realize. They took care of us day and night. They strove to provide us with food and clothing. They occupied themselves with our education and friendships. When we were sick and feverish, they apprehensively watched over us in our beds. They rejoiced with us and wept with us in our afflictions.
4.07.3 - Family Problems
Between parents and children lies so close a bond that reciprocal love and confidence is self-evident. Yet we do not live in paradise any longer. There is no child that is good in himself and parents are guilty before God as well. Therefore, adults and youths live by the grace of God alone and by their continued mutual forgiveness. There is no lasting peace in the family without forgiveness and patience. Restoration of peace in the family cannot come about without admitting or confessing sins and asking humbly for forgiveness. Blessed are the children who are reared in love and forgiveness by their parents.
It is not the parents' choice alone to guide their children in the right faith since the Son of God Himself commands that all children be brought to Him to be blessed. Parents ought to demonstrate the essence of Jesus and his integrity to their children, guide them into keeping His commandments and impress His promises upon their hearts. Fathers and mothers are equally responsible for the spiritual education of their children, but they should know that they cannot bequeath to their children their own faith, much less force them to accept it. Each child has to choose for himself to be for or against God. Nevertheless it is good for children to realize that their parents' blessing lasts for generations.
Parents ought not to spoil their children or raise them to be lazy. They should not ask them to do things which are too difficult for their age. It is wise to allow a considerable period for the child to remain a child! School or vocational training is important but will not matter too much in raising children. It is more important to awaken in them the fear of God and love for their Creator to build up their conscience, integrity, honesty, diligence and purity. It remains essential for parents to spend enough time with their children and to listen to their questions and problems. Most of all, it is important that parents pray unceasingly for their children to be born again, to spend their life with Jesus.
Children will confront their parents critically at the age of puberty and adolescence. Such growth to independence is simply a stage of maturity and must not be resented. If the parents have delivered their children early to the care of the triune God, they can accompany them with patience in these critical years, without keeping them on a leash. Meanwhile, teenagers need to avail themselves of informative books, sincere friends, a selection of clean television programs and Christian youth groups with lively Bible studies. Forcing the old ways of life on teenagers breeds rebelliousness, hardens their hearts and closes the door to their hearts.
As parents we always need to remember Jesus' warning: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea“ (Matthew 18:6). “Causing to sin“ does not mean reactions of opposition or anger, but to mislead them to lie, steal or to allow them to engage in a particular sin without a severe warning. A blessed upbringing only comes from the fear and love of the Lord.
In our sophisticated time of scientific progress parents may appear as “backward“ to their children. Sometimes in a developing country a mother or father can not read or write. This does not entitle a well-educated child to become proud or to make fun of them. This is not only disrespectful but naive and stupid. The ability to read and write doesn't show how intelligent or valuable a person is. A high education does not improve the goodness or holiness of a student. The parents' authority is not based on how many degrees they earned or how much money they could save. Their authority is founded on the will of God and on how they intercede for their children before the throne of grace. The fatherhood of God has instilled compassionate love in the hearts of parents. The sacrifice of Christ creates a will for unconditional service and sacrifice in parents and children for one another.
4.07.4 - Fulfilling the Fifth Commandment
How can children honor their parents? Our consciences remind us to love and honor them because they are the most precious of all that we know or possess on earth. This involves confidence and obedience, denying our self, and not giving way to ulterior motives. A child should never beat his father or mother, on purpose or by mistake. A child is not entitled to be the focus of the family but the Lord alone. Jesus taught us the key to blissful family life when He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many“ (Matthew 20:28). The Son of God exhorts parents and children to watchfully observe this principle in the daily life of the family.
Is the children's responsibility for their parents finished once they establish their own families? No! When parents are aged and weaken mentally and physically they need their children's compassion and care more than ever. Sons and daughters can dedicate a certain amount of their time to their parents just as parents offered it to them sacrificially in the early days of their infancy. No nursing centers or pensions can make up for children giving sacrificially of their time, money and effort to elderly parents.
The fifth commandment is the first to offer a clear promise after it has highlighted God's covenantal fatherhood to us. He who kindly takes care of His parents is promised a longer life on earth with less complaints and abundant blessings. Whenever parents' dignity is preserved, and where parents and children live in the ways of God, they will experience the fulfillment of this promise together.
God forbids us to despise parents and people in authority. This includes abuse, injustice, hypocrisy and deception. Didn't Jesus say, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me“ (Matthew 25:40)? Do you remember the sad story of Absalom's rebellion against his father, David? It ends with the death of the rebel (1 Samuel 15:1-12; 18:1-18).
We read in Exodus 21:15-17, “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death... And he who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death.“ Proverbs 20:20 says, “Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in deep darkness.“ Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother and who when chastened will not heed them... then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones....“ Whoever opposed and revolted against his parents without repenting became a danger to the whole people. The stability of society rested upon the children's love and obedience in those days even today!
God clearly speaks not only to children but also warns parents. Children are not to be “toyed with“ by the adults since every child is entrusted to them by God. Here Jesus' promise is fulfilled in a different way, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me“ (Matthew 25:40). The apostle Paul also warns against exasperating children and overburdening them (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Parents ought not to be too lenient or careless. They should not be needlessly cruel or stubborn. They ought not to forget that children exhibit their hereditary qualities. Yet, inherited sin and weakness does not allow us to be complacent about their sin, but ought to lead parents to humility. This humility produces a gentle spirit which leads their children to behave properly. Therefore, parents and children need to pray to Jesus to continually grant them repentance and renewal of mind.
4.07.5 - Converts from Islam and Their Parents
There is only one case for children not to obey their parents: if they ask them to act against God's will. The Bible clearly says, “We ought to obey God rather than men“ (Acts 5:29). Today, in both the Islamic and the Jewish world, an increasing number of young people no longer follow the belief of their fathers, for they have met and received Jesus as their personal Savior. This creates a painful tension because they have experienced radical spiritual and moral change, for the love of God has been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. It helps them love their parents more than ever before. They need a lot of wisdom so that they may concentrate on their good deeds rather than speak to them about their faith. Patience is a virtue, and children ought to pray earnestly for their non-Christian parents so that they will be changed by grace. They should also visit them as much as they can, for no one loves us in this world more than our parents.
But if parents relentlessly resist the spirit of Jesus and force their children to renounce their Saviour and threaten to kill them according to the teaching of the Islamic Sharia, it is time to separate. The anti-christian spirit of such parents ought to be condemned and rejected. But parents themselves should be honored and loved without ceasing. Yet the word of Jesus guides us, “He who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me“ (Matthew 10:37). If parents are unjust or cruel to their children for religious reasons, then emotional ties, cultural restraints, or financial dependence can be used to influence the children's final decision. That is why Jesus commands us to be totally separated from all relatives opposed to His Gospel lest they side-track us from the faith. In some cases there is need for a complete separation from parents for a time for the sake of total commitment to Jesus. When it happens, it hurts parents as well as children deeply, yet the love of God is greater than the feelings of the dearest people in the world.
The believers in a church are called to commit themselves to help needy converts quickly and offer themselves as brothers or sisters, fathers or mothers to them. This may involve vocational training or academic studies later on, as well as marriage. Just as the parents' love is never-ending, the love of the church for the new member should be unending, even in the case of improper conduct. Christ's love and patience are the criteria for believers who have adopted a new convert.
4.07.6 - Conclusion
Love in the family should be a reflection of God's love. The eternal God is our Father, and He called us to join His family forever, in Jesus Christ. He cleanses us with the blood of His Son to keep us in fellowship with Him and revives us by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we lose our parents in an accident or adverse circumstances, we should not lose heart but confess with David, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me“ (Psalm 27:10). All human love is limited, but our God receives us with His unqualified love and holds us to His embrace. The story of the prodigal son shows us the acceptance of the lost one and how the father tried to convince the proud, pious one to have mercy and love for the saved one. The father loved both and tried his very best to bring them together. Fellowship with God the Father remains the source of peace and tranquility in our lives. Sometimes God gives us the privilege to live in the fellowship of saints on earth. So we should thank our Father in heaven for our earthly family and for being called to be members of His heavenly family.